Saturday, January 29

Home: A Living System (or Embracing the Clutter)

 We had a housing inspection yesterday.  And I was totally stressed out about it.  I spent the whole week working toward it.  "Why the stress?" I asked myself.  Perhaps it was because I don't think of myself as a great housekeeper.  Granted I didn't do much before the inspection (dust, clean bathrooms, hoover, uncluttered some surfaces...) nothing that I don't normally do; and the house was fine for the inspection. As I went about our home this week seeing toys spread, yarn basket overflowing, sewing projects stacked in small heaps,..., I kept thinking of this quote from Shannon Hayes' book Radical Homemakers.

It seems a mystery, how a home can look nothing like those on the pages of a magazine, how it can have children's art projects spread out across the kitchen table, unwashed dishes in the sink, plywoood floors, no trim, unfinished walls, and maybe even sawhorse tables, yet still feel like an embracing refuge from the world.  Part of the warmth comes from the presence of human beings constantly inhabiting them, keeping the living systems within them vital.   (pg 134)

I love this vision of the home - a living system with all that entails; the feeding, the resting, the making, the diapering...  Life is messy.  That isn't to say organization isn't important.  I live by the motto that 'an organized home is a happy home'.  I'm not claiming that I ever achieve that goal - just that I think about it and work towards it (though at times, seemingly futilely).  But I think, what I realized this week as I thought about this quote is that I'm not a housekeeper, I'm a home maker.  That means I work towards organization and cleanliness not as an end in itself, but as a means to helping our family live more fully. 

I love the book The Seven Silly Eaters.  The story is great, but what I really love are the illustrations.  I love the home.  Every time we read that book (which is fairly often) I see that home and I think 'I hope my home looks like this some day'.  I love the creative clutter; it feels so alive.  I love a home that is alive and full of creative productivity.  Not that I want my home to look like this all the time, but in the midst of our working day it does (minus five kids - but it certainly feels like more than two sometimes) and there's something really lovely about all the life and creativity happening around me.

After reading this article on quilting I've been thinking about hospitality of late.  My hypothesis is that hospitality is the place where utility and beauty meet.  I think I'd like to say the same thing about the home.  My job as homemaker is to create a space that is both useful for our family's daily work (playing, making, baking, dancing, dressing, exploring, reading, learning, writing...) and beautiful at the same time.  That doesn't mean that our home in any way resembles a furniture store show room with a single magazine positioned on a coffee table, shelves with perfectly placed books and eternally crumb free counters. 

Instead it looks a lot more like this...
... at least in it's better mid-morning moments ;o)

Friday, January 28

Ordinary - Extraordinary

This moment to savor and remember.... 
 joining in 'this moment' with soulemama

Thursday, January 27

A Best Friend's Birthday

It is really wonderful to watch Jonah forming friendships.  It is interesting to see how the friendships grow and how there are some children that just click (I suppose this isn't just with children, but I think seeing it happen so young is fascinating.)  Jonah is blessed with several wonderful friends (who all have delightful mothers - a bonus for me!); but for the first time, Jonah would say he has a 'best friend' and I do think they are something of kindred spirits.  It is sweet and so much fun to watch.  

So when this little guy, who Jonah loves so much, was turning five Jonah wanted to celebrate (and so did I).  So we put together a simple birthday lunch to celebrate his 'best-friend'.

(unfortunately I didn't take any pictures while we had tea - I forgot, but here is the set up.)

And for the gift - a 'Best Friend Apron' (you'll be seeing more of these soon for my boys - hopefully for valentines day).  I'm sure someone has thought of this before, but I used elastic for the neck so that the child can put it on themselves with out tying or tightening.  But the pockets are what make it something special.  I asked Jonah to draw a picture of he and Henry with a water soluble pen.  He began and then said, "I'm making balloons instead.  How do you spell Balloons?"  He chose colors for his balloons and I did the stitching.  I made the H and sewed it up the night before - sorry for the poor photo quality, but that's what I get for procrastinating.  It is a pretty bright purple check, but you can't tell from the photos.

Tuesday, January 25

A Belated Birthday

Hmmm, Christmas holidays seem so long ago and I have one more batch of projects to share that were made over that wonderful stretch of time (have I mentioned before that it would be great if Jim never worked?)  The following are for my sister's birthday gift, now sent (though only just this morning).  My new years resolution was to write birthday letters and send gifts to all our family and if possible on time.  Well, her birthday was the third of January and I'm just getting this sent off, but I really am trying to get the birthday thing organized (more on that soon).  So Laura, if you are reading this, consider this a sneak preview of your belated birthday gift - it will be there soon :o)
 These little gnomes were inspired by these on peasandcarrots.  So fun to make.  I added pipe cleaners in the hats so you can make them bend.  Jonah made the little boy (though I sewed his hat and scarf) and another one that is on our window sill showing off beautiful splotches of color.
This little snail is from the book Feltcraft, which I've been stitching from quite a bit lately, and I made a second one for our nature table, because I love snails.
 This headband is from Weekend Sewing (one of my favorite sewing books) and I again made two because I love it and wanted a bit of this unicorn fabric (by Heather Ross) to wear.

So as you can see my sister's gift had a bit of a fairy tale theme, and as last year I made her the princess and the pea set - it may just be a tradition.  Hooray for a sister who loves fairy tales as much as I do (or maybe even more).

Monday, January 24

My Littlest Artist

This is where you will find Rowan for long periods of time, multiple times a day.  He colors, paints, and draws.  He spills water, eats crayons (bees wax) and sucks on paint brushes (he only uses water or vegetable based watercolors until he breaks this habit).  And he is oh, so happy.  He loves exploring raw materials - blocks, yarn, art supplies and anything he can find in the kitchen (flour, beans, dry pasta...)  Had Rowan been my first child I would have thought all children were this into materials and working with their hands (after all, I am), but I know from experience that they are not (Jonah typically spent more time organizing and reorganizing his crayons than coloring when he was one).  I know these things shift and change, but for now, Rowan is my wee artist: loving and exploring his materials, intentionally marking and making, becoming totally absorbed in creating.  And I'm loving it.

note: Rowan is just using water on sugar (construction) paper in these photos and it works really well.  He's happy and it isn't messy... well, at least not very messy.

Sunday, January 23

Godly Play 3: Creating a Space

If you are new to this space you might appreciate reading Godly Play 1: What is Godly Play and Godly Play 2: Materials before you read this post.
While many churches that use godly play have beautiful rooms filled with shelves of wooden figures, golden parable boxes and natural art materials, that just isn't practical for most of us in our homes.   I think that a small table or end stand can suffice.  We use a small end stand that is part of the furnishings of our rented home and house it in the corner of our dining room.  I would love someday to have a small alter for seasonal cloth and candle, small shallow shelves beside it to house our materials and a small desert table with a lid (so it can be used with or without sand).  But for now our simple table works quite well.

the story on the table is "The Man Who Said Thank You" found in Luke 17: 11-17
I've mentioned before that when I talk about godly play at home I'm not talking about using the godly play scripts that you find in the curriculums.  We do use those some; but what I'm talking about here is creating a place that children can play with the biblical story and christian practices.  Perhaps I should come up with another name for this, but for now, just know, that when I say 'godly play at home' it looks different than 'godly play' proper.  In some ways it reminds me more of the waldorf style story tables and less of montessori trays and lessons.  When I tell stories at the table (or often on the floor beside the table or at our meal table) I typically read the scripture before hand and then tell the story in my own words.  I particularly love telling stories from the Pentateuch (The first five books of the Old Testament) this way, as some believe they were told for hundreds of years before they were written down during the exile.  I love to think that I am passing these stories in my voice to my children, just as the people of God passed them to their children so long ago.

The Space:

We have a cloth the color of the church season over the table (above it is green for ordinary time) and perhaps some postcards or prints depicting some stories we are working with or coordinate with the church season hanging above.

Our table has one shelf that holds our materials: two baskets of figures, a small box with felt pieces, strips of fabric for roads, rocks and other small items, a box of blocks (we use haba's middle eastern blocks), a couple electric candles, and a stack of cloths (both for the church year colors and to create the landscapes for different stories).  There are so many more things I would love to make and add, but really a few figures and some cloths are all you need to start.

:Under the table we have some books -children's Bibles, Bible story books, The Common Book of Prayer, an illustrated Nicene creed, the Lords Prayer, and several other books.  I would love to share some of our favorites in this space and will work on that, but for now, it is enough to say that a good collection of books is a wonderful addition.  I sometimes find Jonah with figures and a book acting out what he is reading.

:Beside our godly play table is our nature table, which is actually a hunt-board filled with paper and other art supplies, so if there is ever a desire to do an artistic response everything is available to little hands.

If you decide to create a space for godly play at home, I'd love to hear what you come up with.

Friday, January 21

Thoughts on Radical Homemaking

I'm at Transpositions today with some thoughts on Radical Homemaking as part of Domestic Crafts Week.  See you there.

Thursday, January 20

Thoughts on Waldorf and an Early Reader

Before I had children I heard the arguments for not pushing children to read early (under 7ish) and it made a lot of sense to me.  It was then that I began to familiarize myself with alternative schooling methods and since having children, I've read more and more on education.  I definitely resonate most strongly with Waldorf methods.  I appreciate that it is so rhythmic but unstructured, creative, and based in the seasonal year and celebratory stories.   I love that imagination is always the primary source for the child's work (after all, it is from imagination that compassion springs and that is our ultimate goal for our children - that they are compassionate and courageous.)  For me, the Waldorf method of education echoes what it means to be part of the kingdom of God.  In other words, what it honors lines up with my understaning of righteous, which is to be in right relationship to God, others, self and creation.  

But, this doesn't mean that I will do everything that is Waldorf (i.e. we have and will use books with text from birth) or that I don't admire and use methods and materials from other educational philosophies (Classical and Montessori mostly).  This is the beauty of doing these early years at home, we can mesh together what works for each child and our family as we strive toward our educational goals and, more importantly, right relationships (which, I believe, are really what education is all about.) 

I say all that to say to preface what I am about to share about early reading.  I am forever coaching myself that I'm not parenting to my ideals, but to my child.  I'm also not educating to any philosophy, but to my child.  So while I think that it is fine and perhaps even preferable that children read later.  Jonah is unique (just as every child is).  He has slept with his current favorite book since he was eight months old.  He spoke extremely early and has always been very focused on the cognitive and not as focused on other forms of development.  When he was two he began to point out words in books and I did a few  simple activities from the book Montessori Read and Write to help him learn letter sounds.  It was just after two that he was given a couple workbooks and I haven't been able to keep him from them ever since.  (I often set up an art project to have him come down from rest saying "oh, that's nice, but I really wanted to do my math workbook together.")  Just after he turned three he said he didn't want to do reading activities, and as the activities were always child driven, we stopped (oh, I did make these gift words for story telling and he loved that).  I had been reading more on Waldorf and thought "oh, maybe he will slow down and wait till later to learn to read."  So while I knew he could read a few simple words and also knew that he 'read' in bed each nap and night on his own, I was still rather surprised when the day after his fourth birthday he began to read one of the new books he had been given (Frog and Toad).  

Now, six months later he is reading lots and we've done very little in the learning process so far.  How he reads is unique; I think it is based on both memorization of certain words, knowing some combinations of letters and then guessing.  He reads very quickly because of this, but if he comes across a word that he can't read and isn't able to get enough context clues to guess, he can't sound it out very well.  As he is most interested in reading encyclopedias, Eyewitness books, and the atlas (oh yes, he is so different from his mum) there are some mighty big words he is coming across and while he gets most of them (don't ask me how) I thought some intermediate phonics skills (letter blends) might help to curb frustration (he does want to read those words!)  We've been backtracking and reviewing some more basic phonics to help with these 'mystery' words.  I've been using the book Games for Reading, which I really like.  It is very child led and playful and Jonah is devouring the activities, asking to play over and over and over.  I'm having a new reading game available each week and if he is interested we play.  Yesterday he wanted to throw a frisbee instead and that was great, but I'm letting him lead in his education right now and sometimes that means that he doesn't fit into schedules.  But, that doesn't take away from the magic of these early years, it adds to the magic.  I am watching my little boy unfold; not in the way I think he should, or the way any educational philosophy says he should, but in the way he, Jonah, should.  And, to watch him unfolding is the greatest privilege.

The following photos are the game Chickens and Whales from Games for Reading.  We were playing so much that I decided that contact paper and a storage envelope were in order... and then while Jim and I watched Star Trek one night I whipped up some little playing pieces too.


Wednesday, January 19

Becoming Human Through Cooking

"Food," says Capon, "is the daily sacrament of unnecessary goodness, ordained for a continual remembrance that the world will always be more delicious than it is useful." (40)
The Supper of the Lamb: A Culinary Reflection by Robert Farrar Capon

Jim's thoughts on this favorite book of ours are on transpositions today.  It's worth going over there just to read Capon's toast from the book (at the end of Jim's post).  Brilliant!

Tuesday, January 18

Extra Hands in the Kitchen...

...and I'm loving it.  Jonah has decided that he and I run a restaurant and Daddy and Rowan are our costumers.  He finds it hilarious to continually ask Daddy why he sleeps at the restaurant each night.  "Perhaps we are a Bed and Breakfast" I add and Daddy thinks that is a great idea, "Will Jonah make our bed?"  
photo by Daddy
I've had help with bread, crepes, cranberry chocolate cookies (from Apples for Jam - Yum!) and cupcakes  to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday (pink frosted cakes from Apples for Jam - certainly not very healthy - but yummy) in the past couple days.  And Rowan is content with some beans or popcorn in a bowl to stir with a teaspoon - my sweet little helper.

Sunday, January 16

Transpositions Goes Domestic

It is Domestic Arts week at Transpositions, which is the blog that Jim works on as part of the Institute of Theology, Imagination and the Arts.

The featured artist for the week is Cosette Cornelius Bates.  I am forever grateful to her as she taught me to knit while we were in seminary where she completed her arts thesis in knitting and theology.

There is a great line up of posts for the week and I'll certainly be reading along.  I'll be at transpositions later in the week reflecting on radical homemaking and the Christian life.

Saturday, January 15

The New Year in My Kitchen

In these so often indoor winter days there has been a lot coming out of our kitchen.  Here are a few recent favorites.

:The oat biscuits from Apples for Jam (I'm really loving this cookbook!)  Daddy decided to top his with Dalfour jam (a french juice sweetened jam that is amazing and the only sugar free and whole foods option I can find here - and while it is expensive it is cheaper than making my own since I don't have any berry bushes).  

: The chocolate chip and crystalized ginger banana bread from A Homemade Life; this is the first time I made it, but it certainly won't be the last.

: Lots of soups - Pictured is Ed Fretwell Soup from A Homemade Life, which is a favorite and makes a huge amount, so we can host with it and then have left overs for a couple days - brilliant!

: Shells, several soft grey pitchers and vases, and some bare sticks are on my windowsill above the sink -  Wintry tones that remind me of the grey of the sea and make me feel so peaceful right now

What's in your kitchen?
Yep, that's a shiner.  Rowan is walking all over this week and taking quite a few tumbles.  He hit the side of his face (about an inch from the eye) and only cried briefly, but it has turned into a beautiful black eye - poor sweet baby!

Friday, January 14

This ExtraOrdinary Moment

This ordinary moment to savor and remember.... 
 joining in 'this moment' with soulemama

Thursday, January 13

Embracing Winter

This winter has been hard on me.  I'm an extrovert by nature, which doesn't mean I'm crazy about parties or meeting strangers, but I do generally gain energy from exploring new places and engaging in thoughtful conversation.  Just being in town, going on a hike, looking at store windows or running into a friend can be life-giving.
The icy sidewalks and snowy paths have made it very difficult for four year old legs (and impossible for the buggy board) to make it into town.  And the boys don't last long outside in the cold, despite my efforts to bundle them in copious layers.  We have spent day after day inside with just wee walks through the yard and to the woods across the street.  We have plenty to do, but sometimes the days and less-than-ideal nights (sleep baby sleep!) seem to all merge together and I long for the sunshine to break through the darkness.  

Tonight it was still light when Jim came home at four (though just barely) and I rejoiced, welcoming a few extra moments of sunlight.  But, I also hung paper snowflakes in our window today and have gathered all our favorite winter books in the last few days.   Between celebrating each small gain in sun and embracing the beauty and mystery of winter  I think we may just make it through these long nights and short days.  

Monday, January 10

Back to Ordinary Time

Well, we took down the advent journey on the mantle and Jonah and I were feeling a bit sad, so I decided it was time to make another ordinary time collection.  I love doing this (the first time we did it was here) and Jonah loves playing 'I Spy' with the collection.  He also loves adding one object of another color, which he and Rowan both find hysterically funny (though I think Rowan is laughing at Jonah and not the color variation).  We gather the ordinary green things of our days reminding ourselves that we are in ordinary time.  In placing these things apart I am reminded that even the ordinary can be made special and isn't that what it means to be fully human - to be made God's priests so we can voice creation's praise?

This great green growing time is always a breath to a mama who works hard to teach, share and celebrate in the festivals.  The last few days we've been tidying up, organizing a bit, and finding a new normal rhythm.  Oh, there are adventures to be had, things to be made, moments to share in ordinary time, but for now, I'm just taking deep breaths, drinking lots of tea and watching the snow fall.

Welcome my friends to another lovely stretch of ordinary time.

Sunday, January 9

The Finished Quilt

One of my goals while Jim was off was to finish my quilt for our bed.  I finished piecing it at the end of last summer, but needed a full half day with out help from little boys so that I could lay it out and baste it before it was crawled, rolled or jumped on (see below).  So over the break the boys played outside and then upstairs while I tied off the quilt.  (I would really like to truly quilt it, but decided that efficiency was key right now.)  I finished it that night after bedtimes.  
 Did you know that rolling on something is the best way to get all the wrinkles out?  I was informed of this fact and then given a demonstration.  
Jonah liked playing 'hard hopscotch' on the quilt top.  See why I needed no little boys if I was to keep three layers flat?
 And here it is finished (though not ironed) with a 'I just woke up from my nap baby'.
I used old sheets for all the spacing fabric and the back of the quilt.

 I like this quilt, but I don't love it.  I like it best when it is all rumpled in the morning and the fabrics (Anna Marie Horner's Good Folks) lay next to each other.  They are so vibrant and beautiful beside each other.  I had originally planned on just making squares of the fabric together, but didn't have enough to make a quilt big enough for our bed.  But mostly I'm just grateful to have a homemade quilt on our bed.  I added some candles to our night stands and am glad that our room is no longer the overlooked room of the house (though it certainly isn't anything grand).  It was last spring that I decided we needed a quilt; in these days that are so filled for Jim and me with the demands of parenting wee children, the quilt seems like a very tangible way of caring for us.

Handmade Holiday - from Daddy

Among the many games we've been playing over the past few weeks is a game Jim made Jonah for Christmas.  

 Places we have visited in Europe are around the outside of the board.  The wizard's castle is in the middle of the board and sends you to tell stories from different places.  To win the game one collects tickets from all twelve destinations.  It has been a great way of sharing memories from our travels.

Friday, January 7

A Holiday Recap

It was a very mellow Christmas season and at moments I found myself wishing for home and the excitement of the five grandchildren under five on my side.  Jim and I have decided that we don't want to be traveling every Christmas as we want to build traditions for our own little family based on the church year.  This year was the first year that I felt like we really succeeded in fully holding the space of Advent, the 12 days and Epiphany.  It definitely is a process adding in these traditions.  I was particularly pleased with Advent this year; once I gave up most of the slew of the gifts I had planned to make I was able to really focus on creating the advent space meaningfully.

As for the twelve days of Christmas and Epiphany here are some things I was thankful for...
:Cinnamon Rolls shaped as a Christmas tree are my family's Christmas morning tradition, but this year I opted out of that tradition and made a very simple breakfast cake (the Blueberry Buttermilk cake from Apples for Jam - Yum!)  I've made rolls the past few years, but it has always been late on Christmas Eve and it has felt rushed and I haven't enjoyed it.  So this year I decided that this is one of the joys of celebrating all 12 days - we had Cinnamon Rolls a couple times, just not on Christmas morning.  I also opted to make turkey dinner for Epiphany so I wasn't roasting a Turkey on Christmas day.

 : Our 12 days of giving quests went well.  The best days were the simplest and most tangible.  At four, giving tinned food to a box in the store isn't overly meaningful.  But, mixing icing for cinnamon rolls and making coffee to surprise daddy was incredibly exciting.   We also particularly enjoyed sharing food with the birds.

: December's 'One Small Change' - We had a paperless Christmas for the first time.  Some things came from family wrapped, but I made bags for our gifts (just sewed on three sides, pinked the top edge and used loose ribbon to tie around the bag - very simple).  The boys loved opening the bags and maybe some year I'll hem the edges and I would love to collect red, black and white folksy fabrics to make more from.
 :Games, Games and more Games - fortunately for us Jonah loves games as much as we do and we played lots of them through the holidays.  Jonah is particularly into chess right now (not Mum's favorite game, but oh well) and spent hours going through his new chess book setting up scenarios and doing chess puzzles.
:Some holiday crafting: I made Jonah a felt beaver for all the Narnia play he's been doing with his tree house.  He is requesting a Mrs. Beaver now... we'll see when I get to that.  
Jonah learned how to knit with a knitting fork - you can see his knitted necklace peaking out from beneath his shirt in the picture below.
:Epiphany - We had a lovely Epiphany to end our holidaying.  Making crowns is always a highlight for us and this year Jonah made the star for us to follow as well.  We have a tradition of following a star on a string through the house singing 'We Three Kings' and then sharing the story of the Magi.